This dive reminds you just how grand the world is, and just how small your part is in it all. And that is a really awe-inspiring feeling.
Since I was a little girl, the water has always seemed to whisper my name. Whether I was wading a bit too deep into the swimming hole, flopping face first into the deep end of the pool at the YMCA or sneaking away to dip my toes into the baptismal pool, I have always felt her beckoning me, inviting me to come in. I thought I had been receptive to her calling, but I had no idea that there was so much more to explore.
At 31, I tried an introductory SCUBA diving lesson in Hawaii. A childhood friend was getting married and we decided to go diving as one of our pre-wedding activities. Most of the wedding party was not certified, so we had a 1-hour crash course in underwater breathing and how to not run out of air, and we went for it. The next 45 minutes changed my relationship with the ocean forever. Never before had I really been able to see, admire and begin to appreciate the world that exists right beside us. It was there that I knew SCUBA certification was the next step for me.
The first decision was where and when to do my first official dive. This would also be my first solo trip, so considering safety, expenses, and language, Belize was the perfect destination – and the flight deal I snagged made it that much sweeter. The week before my vacation, I was in Miami for work, so I was able to do my Open Water Certification in a few days, and then I flew to Belize and headed straight to Caye Caulker. It’s a perfect little island where you can wake up and head to the Split in the morning, watch the sunrise in the morning, drink some coconut water all day (with or without your favorite libations) and stay in the same spot to watch it set that evening. Thanks to a tip from my trusty Moon Travel Guide, I decided to go out with Frenchie’s Diving the next day. The boat ride out to our dive location for the day, Esmeralda, was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. The dive masters give you a quick training refresher and in you go, back rolling off the side of a boat with 50+ pounds of equipment on your back. Release the air in your jacket, and now you are slowly descending into a different world. The nerves fade away, along with the worries and cares of life on solid ground. Here, you are simply the observer – hands crossed, fins donned, you are now simply a guest in the most beautiful house you’ll ever enter. Because I was a new diver, I wasn’t able to do the Blue Hole my first time around, so I did what anyone would do and booked a trip for a year later.
It felt so right to return to Belize, so the following December, with about 15 dives under my belt and my Advanced Certification, I went back to Frenchie’s ready to dive The Blue Hole. On the 3-hour boat ride to The Blue Hole, the crew gives you an overview of what you’re heading to see. The Blue Hole was formed 153,000 years ago and has changed shape as recently as 15,000 years ago; it currently measures up at approximately 300 meters in diameter and 124 meters deep. It came to fame in 1971 when legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau presented the Blue Hole to the world on his television show. In layman’s terms, the blue hole is like a giant sinkhole in the ocean. At one time, this was an above water cave that has now been tunneled out by underwater rivers, earthquakes and foundational shifts to create a maze of stalactites and stalagmites under the sea. Because the walls of the dive go straight down, there is very little light that can penetrate which causes minimal amounts of oxygen and almost no life. Sounds like fun, right?!
Finally, we arrive. The water is a perfect aquamarine. We suit up, meet with our buddy, do the final checks and get ready for the dive of a lifetime. We begin our descent to the sand shelf; divers have about 2 minutes to clear their ears and prepare to go further. Immediate observations are that this is a stark contrast from most dive sites where you’ll see brightly colored fish and vibrant coral; this dive is dark, seemingly barren, and mostly murky until you hit about 60 feet underwater. A vertical wall is on your left, leading deeper and deeper into what seems to be nothingness. To your right, you will likely see a few reef sharks. They are not dangerous, so you release the tension, and your breath, as they head toward your group, swimming beside and under you just a few feet away.
As the currents gently lead you along, you check your dive computer and realize you’re now at about 80 feet underwater. It’s here that the nitrogen narcosis hits – giddiness comes over you as your brain begins to buzz. You approach your destination, and the caves come into view – an amazing labyrinth of nooks and crannies, 130 feet below the surface of the water. This is like a world you couldn’t imagine and wouldn’t believe if you didn’t see it with your own eyes. Swimming in and out of the stalactites and rock formations, you become a fish, you are nimble and graceful as you view the depths of the ocean. You can only stay at this depth for about 5 minutes before you need to begin to ascend slowly. The buzz begins to wear off, and you recognize that this is just a small part of the Blue Hole and you’ve only been under the water for 25-30 minutes total. This dive reminds you just how grand the world is, and just how small your part is in it all. And that is a really awe-inspiring feeling.
After the Blue Hole dive, we did a few more spots that day, and while they were more colorful and interesting, nothing could top the excitement of crossing off my first diving bucket list item! Since 2015, I’ve completed 60 more dives, most recently a second round at the Great Barrier Reef off the eastern coast of Australia. Diving in Thailand was amazing, the Silfra Glacier in Iceland was a scuba highlight, and I’m looking forward to heading to South Africa to dive with the sharks. But Belize will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only because it was the place of my first certified dive, but I was able to visit a World Heritage Dive site and see one of the wonders of the natural world. The Blue Hole is something I’ll never forget. And even if you’re not quite ready for 130 feet, just jump on in. You might discover a whole world that’s calling you too.